Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Today I'm 40

It's true. 

Today I'm 40.

It feels significant and crazy and surreal and I daresay, a bit empowering to write that sentence.

I don't feel forty. Sometimes I don't even feel like a grown-up. 

I've been married seventeen years and have three kids, yet part of me still feels like this life of mine is just a long-term babysitting gig and at any moment the real parents will arrive and pay me three dollars an hour for my time. I'll drive my stick-shift VW Rabbit home, sing along to my mix tape, climb into bed, and stare up at my Benetton posters while I drift off to sleep.

I was a teenager, I blinked, and now I'm forty.

I'm a sucker for milestones and all things nostalgic, sentimental, and celebratory. So it's only appropriate that I commemorate this personal milestone with a 40s-themed post. 


Forty Things:

Lessons, Observations, and Resolutions 

 on my 40th Birthday

On Motherhood

1. One of the best gifts I can give my kids is an authentic life. A life in which I mess up and ask their forgiveness. A life in which I inevitably fall short of my own parenting expectations and start again the next day. A life in which I share my own stories {the good, the bad, and the ugly} so that they know realness and redemption is alive and well in their own family.

2. To thine own parenting self be true. Our God-given personalities show up in our parenting. Sometimes this is awesome. Sometimes it is ugly. But trying to parent my kids in the same way someone else parents their kids has been nothing but a train wreck for me. Things go better when I'm honest about who I am and who my kids are and what our life looks like. 

3. All they need is love. And yes, love looks like discipline and it looks like grace and it looks like helping with homework and repentance and picking them up from school. But truly, if my kids know in their core that they are loved beyond measure, not because of who they are or aren't or what they do or don't do but simply because they are mine--well, that's everything.

4. Play is the smartest thing kids can do. It is their work, their education, their brain-power. It's okay to just let them play. {Types the mom who stepped over a train track, a car show, and a line-up of super-heroes to get to my bedroom and finish this post.}

5. There's no formula. Twelve years into motherhood and it's so freeing to realize this. There is the Holy Spirit and the law written on my heart. There is the God-given common sense wired into my brain. All things being equal, there are parenting principles and precepts that may yield great kids. But all things are never equal and our kids will ultimately make their own choices. 

6. Only God can change their hearts. This is liberating and also terrifying, depending on the day. 

7. When I pray for wisdom and I feel like it's not coming as quickly as it "should," I do the best I can and fall back into the hammock of grace, knowing that it will catch me and catch them and cover a multitude of missteps along the way.

On Marriage

8. I love being married and I desperately love the man I'm married to, the man who has known me over half my life. Marriage, however, is challenging. In my humble opinion it is a miracle that any marriages stay together. But here's the beautiful truth that rises up out of that bleak reality: Miracles happen. They really do. I should celebrate every day in light of this miracle. 

9. The only way to extend grace is to first recognize my own fierce need of it. I receive it and pour it out every day, as many times as I need it, as many times as he needs it.

10. Unforgiveness is poison and doesn't do anything but empower a hardening heart toward greater bitterness. 

11. Forgiveness. It is excruciating and beautiful, sacrificial and sacred, ridiculous and revolutionary. It changes everything. 

12. Growing old together may not seem sexy or exciting or the stuff most movies are made of. But every time I think about growing old together, I cry. I just do. See? Just typing this...tears.  

13. Despite what all the marriage seminar people tell you, it's possible to have a lovely marriage without the luxury of a weekly date night. Date nights are amazing and I wish we had more of them, but date nights will not make or break a marriage.

On Myself

14. At 40, I'm bolder in speaking my own mind and not the mind I think others want me to speak. And when I do speak, it feels stronger but more graceful than it once did...a "softer" strength as opposed to my younger, prideful, self-righteous, ax-to-grind mind-speaking.

15. I feel more comfortable in my own skin {even though it's saggier, frecklier, and veinier than it once was.} My mom used to say, You be You. I didn't listen. Besides, I didn't really know who I was. But here I am at 40 and I'm finally getting to know myself, who I am and who I'm not. It's comforting to make peace and friends with both.  

16. I'm more comfortable with the gray and less resolute about the black and whiteness of life. Yes, I believe in absolute truth. No, this isn't a statement on the virtue of relativism. But I hope I die with plenty of unanswered questions. I hope I'll always keep my eyes and ears, mind and heart open to the grace and freedom of life lived outside the box.

17. Honesty trumps pretense every time. Vulnerability invites kindred, wounded souls. Be who you are and not who you think you're supposed to be. God wants you in this world, the real you. And the world needs the real you too. {Listen to my mom's advice on this, okay?}

18. I knew nothing in my 20s {but it was a fun decade.}

19. I began to get a clue in my 30s {but it came through a lot of un-fun experiences.}

20. Though I had a sense of dread about turning 40, I've changed my tune. I've no guarantee that my 40s will be a decade of peace, health, or happiness but here's the thing: my 30s were hard. Yes, they were full of many blessings and two babies and countless lessons. But those lessons were born out of grief and a whole lot of crazy. Why wouldn't I want to see this milestone birthday as a chance to begin a new chapter? It feels good and right to see it this way.

21. I'm happier {albeit wrinklier} as I begin my 40s. I strive less. I receive more grace. I give more love. I'm less judgey. I feel more content. I don't rely on the opinions or approval of others. Certain things I used to value now seem superficial.

22. I'm an introvert, an INFJ to be exact. For years I thought I was an extrovert. Eventually I realized that I "needed" to be around people simply because I got my worth from others. I'm so glad that's no longer the case. A lot of people are surprised that I'm an "I" and not an "E." I can chat it up and be outgoing but only in limited doses.

23. At 40, I can admire and appreciate others' strengths and gifts without feeling envious or less than. This is so freeing.

24. Overachieving is overrated and usually comes at a cost. That's why mediocrity is looking better every day.

25. I don't regret the things I thought I would. I've learned that certain failures don't define me like I once believed. Yes, immature decisions and momentary recklessness can sometimes have significant consequences. But memories that use to dredge up shame now dredge up acceptance. I was human. I am human. I acted {and still act} out of my humanness and its many passions and weaknesses. It's covered by grace.

26. I don't regret being a PhD dropout. Not for one second. You know, I thought I might regret this one. At the time, it was the biggest, most grueling decision of my life. But sometimes our gut is totally right. {And so are the people around us who tell us it's okay to take a break or just quit altogether.}

27. I regret the stuff I thought I wouldn't. I wish I'd skipped youth group or church or even school every now and then when my teenage / college schedule was overbooked and I was overtired. Downtime, reflection, and rest would have done my weary self a lot of good. I also wish I'd been more serious about writing in my younger years. As I wrote in this letter to my teenage self
Write in your diary as much as you can. It may seem like a waste of time but for you, writing down your insides has a way of calming you on the outside.

On Rest

28. Fruitfulness and productivity are not the same thing.

29. Sometimes rest, the "art of doing nothing," is the most fruitful thing I can do for myself and for those I love most. I've quit comparing my life, schedule, and responsibilities to that of others. 

30. Every "yes" is also a "no." The concept of "opportunity cost" influences almost every decision we make as a family and as individuals. Our time, resources, and energy are finite. I wish I'd learned this years ago.

On Beauty & Aging

31. One day I'll wonder why I ever begrudged the "flaws" I currently fret over. In the same way I once wished I could change certain features on my 20-year-old-self {such insanity}, my 60-year-old future self is probably having a fit that I'm fretting over anything at 40. I've resolved to celebrate and appreciate what is. Stretch marks and laugh lines mean that life and laughter are etched into my very being like sacred tattoos.   

32. Perfection is off-putting and alienating

33. Real beauty truly does come from the inside. It's absolutely true. The most beautiful people in my life are the grace-givers and the grace-livers and the unconditional lovers. Their outsides don't matter to me. Actually, their outsides are beautiful to me because of their insides. 

34.  I obsess about the external far less than I did in my younger years. Thank God. Yes, I still desire loveliness but more and more I see it as a waste of time, money, and worry. 

35. Despite what I just wrote in the last four points, here's the ironic thing: I still care. I kind of wish I didn't. And even though I know that real beauty is the inside stuff, I have six tubes of chapstick, lip gloss, or lip stick in my purse at this very moment. Why? Because I have always been girly, a lover of pretty clothes and sparkly baubles and lip gloss. It's okay. This is who I am. {Please, when I die, do not bury me in old-lady shoes or let a bumbling mortician with man-hands and cakey cosmetics do my make-up. I beg you.}

On Grace and Other Stuff 

36. Greatness is not what I once thought is was. God destines some for public greatness. But I'm seeing that most of the greatness in this world happens behind closed doors, beside hospital beds, alongside a sick child in the middle of the night, stirring soup on the stove, enfolded in the tightly-gripped hands of one wounded healer whispering her broken story to another. Grace-infused humility and a life lived out of the spotlight may not go down in the history books or gain the most followers, but it has great and glorious eternal value. {Not to mention the value in the here and now, whether it's appreciated or not.}

37. At 40, I've just stumbled upon this amazing "secret" that's revolutionizing my relationships. See others as Jesus sees them: flawed but forgivable, struggling but savable, broken but beautiful. No, I'll never be able to love them just like He loves them but simply seeing others the way He sees them--it's a big step down the road toward loving better.

38. I'm wondering if grace is what makes the world go round and when the world's going 'round in a wonky, sand-in-the-gears sort of way, perhaps it's due to an absence of grace: war, famine, oppression, abuse, schisms, self-righteousness, fractured relationships. One day all will be made right but in the meantime, a heavy downpour of grace could fix so much. What are we waiting for? 

39. As Winston Churchill once said: Success is not final; failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts. Courage doesn't lead most of us into battle or inside a burning building or onto a campaign platform. As I mentioned recently in The Upside of Failure, courage in the everyday is simply this: falling down and getting back up. 

40. And finally, 40 feels like permission. Permission to take all that I'm learning and actually do something with it. Permission to tap into some of God-given loves even if I don't have the training or degrees or clout. Because y'all, forty is legit. I'm a bona fide grown-up now, old enough to have some credibility, experienced enough to have some stories, tired enough to have some needful restraint, and brave enough to say yes to new paths.

Or, in the immortal words of "Towanda" from Fried Green Tomatoes after she rear-ends that red convertible {six times} driven by brazen twenty-somethings: 

Face it girls, I'm older and I have more insurance. {One of the best movie moments ever.} 

Yes, forty feels like permission indeed. 

And it also feels like you better not take my minivan's parking spot with your convertible.                                  



  1. I'm unbelievably excited that I get to have lunch with the 40-year-old who wrote this!

    And ... I'm unbelievably gratified that we both share a "favorite movie moment."

    And ... this is an amazing chapter in your future book. Or maybe 40 chapters.

    And ... LYF.


  2. How 'bout this? If you go before me, I'll do your hair and make-up instead of 'Bernie'. If I go before you, you can do mine! Deal?

    love you!

  3. please write a book;)

  4. Really, really loved (and needed to see) this tonight! Thank you - and I hope you celebrate the heck out of each and every day in the year ahead. You have such a beautiful way of sharing yourself and I'm thankful to have you in my circle of friends! (We may be pretty "old" friends who don't have a chance to see each other, but I feel more like a kindred spirit with you and so many others as life continues to fly by.) Thank you for sharing this... and Happy, Happy 40th to you!


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